On October 26, 2019, Crocker Farm auctioned a JB Leathers batter pail for $10,300. Who knew that a single piece of stoneware produced about 1875 in the tiny Howard Township hamlet of Mt Eagle, adjacent to Curtin Village, would be so valued and valuable?
As explained in a YouTube video posted by Crocker Farm, JB Leathers' work is an excellent representation of Central Pennsylvania stoneware, and the batter pail is one of the most prized types in the genre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq3a6ZWSha0.
Other examples of JB Leathers' work sold by Crocker Farm are pictured below. All photos above and below are used with permission obtained from Tony Zipp of Crocker Farm.
Why the sudden interest in pottery produced in Mt Eagle? It all started as a search to define the provenance of my grandparents' home and property there. I wondered how my grandfather, the long-time storekeeper and postmaster in Curtin Village and the wage earner of the family with a wife and nine children, could afford such a beautiful house and lot. That question remains to be fully explained, but the investigation unearthed a connection to Roland Curtin and, although I knew snippets about a Mt Eagle guy named JB Leathers who made pottery, I didn't realize the full extent of his connection to the Glenn home or the extent of his notoriety.
Part of public record is the history of the property's ownership dating back to 1813, when a land patent was issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Frederick Leathers. Inevitably, it would seem, the name of Roland Curtin appears in the lineage of owners, from 1816 to 1842. The property then came back into the Leathers family, and John Leathers, Jr, also known as John Bitner Leathers or JB Leathers, obtained the property from his father in 1862. He developed his business producing pottery and built a large house about 1875. In fact, that house became home to the Glenns for about 80 years.
My grandfather bought the JB Leathers Homestead from the JB Leathers Estate and his widow, Anna, in 1923 for $1500. In the deed (below) an axe handle factory lot is mentioned as the west border of the property. I don't know if axe handles were produced in a repurposed pottery factory after JB's death, or if it was an unassociated business on an adjacent property -- more likely the latter, but I'm uncertain.
As an aside, comical inaccuracies are present in the deed. The names of wives of three consecutive Leathers men in the list of owners are all given as Barbara. In truth, JB's mother was Barbara, but Frederick Leathers had two wives, Nancy and later Rebecca. Joseph Leathers was married to Mary Magdalena Leathers. It seems as if the deed scribe filled in the blank if details were unknown.
How my grandfather could afford $1500 remains a mystery. A second question remains. The current owners are locals Kenneth (Larry) Bitner and his wife Gayle. Both grew up in Mt Eagle. Whether or not Larry Bitner is a descendant of a relative of John Bitner Leathers' mother, namely one of her brothers, is unknown to me. I traced generations of multiple family lines on internet sources, but was unable to answer the question. In any event, the house remains striking and is well looked after.
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Appendix -- History of Land Ownership of the Mt Eagle Property
3/2/2022 09:09:38 am
This is a wonderful story and the pottery is beautiful. The Mt. Eagle and Curtin locations were quite the "business central" in the 1800s. Thanks for sharing.
Timothy Wayne Leathers,great,Great grandson of Ira Canfield Leathers
3/9/2022 09:46:56 pm
Wonderful history!Very useful information of my family
7/19/2022 04:21:49 pm
Thank you so much for posting this! As the g-g-g-g-granddaughter of Mary Leathers and Christian Bechdel II, I have often wondered about the history of JB Leathers pottery.
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Jerry is a retired general surgeon and a new Board Member of the Roland Curtin Foundation. He has Curtin roots extending back to 1831, through four previous generations.